A Little Zippier

Last week we loaned an OLPC XO laptop running Windows to Ina Fried at CNET, and today she posted an article, short video, and some photos about her experience with the computer. You should definitely check it out.

I have to say, at Microsoft we are pretty happy with where we are at on this project. A year ago there were a lot of people in the industry who were saying that Windows was too bloated to run on the XO, and in the spring we were actually accused of doctoring images of the XO running Windows as a way to demonstrate our progress.

Yet here we are today, going into pilot projects in partnership with the OLPC in countries like Peru while at the same time getting these cool computers now running Windows into the hands of journalists like Ina, whose initial reaction to Windows on the XO was that it was “a little zippier” than what she was expecting.

We like zippier.

As part of her evaluation, Ina enlisted the help of an 8 year old girl named Ella who tested an XO machine running Windows along with an XO machine running Linux/Sugar. Ella’s verdict was that the Windows machine was “a little bit easier to use” but if she had a choice she would take the Linux machine home because she liked the games and thought it was “funner.”

This really doesn’t come as a surprise to me, because the first time I played with some of the games that come with the XO’s Sugar user interface, like the speech synthesizer, I wanted to take the computer home to play with it as well.

And it turns out that a LOT of people in around the world like “funner”. Here in Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential Group, we just completed a comprehensive study of PC usage in 8 emerging market countries ranging from Nigeria to Indonesia, and across the board the #1 usage for PCs at home or in internet cafe’s was entertainment.

I plan to write more about this study in subsequent posts.

So in hindsight, I realized I messed up in my visit with Ina last week, because if I had known there was going to be an 8 year old girl doing a competitive industry review, I would have tricked out the machine Disney's MathQuest with Aladdinto be way more funner for her. We could have done a pink and lavender desktop with cool photos. We could have loaded the computer with software programs like “Barbie as the Island Princess” (above) or Disney’s Mathquest with Aladdin (left) or a High School Musical flash drive or Magic Desktop or Webkinz or any of the tens of thousands of other game and educational titles out there in the Windows ecosystem designed for children.

But I didn’t, so my bad.

There are two points that Ina makes in her article that I strongly agree with. The first is that you cannot simply take these machines and drop them en masse into the hands of children in schools without some type of training and infrastructure, especially at the school and teacher level. It is one of the reasons Microsoft includes a large amount of training and infrastructure guidance when we engage with the OLPC or any other type of partner in these national PC deals targeting education.

The second point is that governments see a role for Windows in these deals because they want to build skills capacity in their future workforce, and Windows provides the versatility to engage with children at a young age with educational games while at the same time helping them learn how to use Office and other business software so that when they grow up they can get the type of high paying knowledge economy jobs that collectively lift societies as a whole while at the same time providing the individual with the income that let’s them afford to kick back, and, well, play computer games or whatever else they want to do after work.

I am partially joking here, but this last point is really interesting, because it’s easy for people in the US and Europe to get caught up in the nobility of providing technology to poor people in emerging markets in order to transform education and improve their society. But what happens is that the first thing people in these countries usually wind up doing when they get their hands on computers is play games, surf the web, communicate, do some work, AND help out with schoolwork. In other words, they want to do the same stuff with computers that you and I do. I’ve seen this firsthand in India, Guatemala, Romania, China, and just about everywhere else I have traveled.

And if Windows can enable this in a manner that’s a little zippier and at a price and cost structure that works in local economies, then I think we are doing a good thing.

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